double-dipping: a review

here, for those of you who don’t regularly visit the orange boxes with the green stripes in which Metro appears five days a week, is today’s review:

Passion behind the headlines
Loving in the face of hate

Elizabeth Zimmer

Top-notch theatrical talents collaborate to make “The Good Negro” one of the year’s strongest shows. Fictional yet grounded in recent history, Tracey Scott Wilson’s taut script explores the human frailty of iconic figures, and the wisdom  of  “ordinary people” caught in the drama of the civil rights movement.

Designer Clint Ramos opens the Public Theater’s LuEsther Hall, revealing by turns a church sanctuary, an office, the FBI’s Birmingham lair, and various characters’ parlors. The broad boards of the raked floor and the arches of the room’s original structure effectively contain the simmering emotions of ministers, G-men, and the couple whose four-year-old daughter is wrested from a “white” restroom and taken to jail.

“The Good Negro” tackles big issues in small bites, switching cinematically from the formal, almost ritualistic behavior of the leaders to the profane frustrations of workers whose lives are up-ended by the “movement.” François Battiste is heartbreaking as the husband of the woman chosen as its figurehead. When the irresistible force of the civil rights struggle meets intransigent white racism, the result is explosive.

Liesl Tommy’s direction gives the drama an almost Shakespearean sweep. The strong actors periodically break the “fourth wall,” turning the audience into a congregation. The white characters function as both villains and comic relief. A couple of profane FBI men, wiretapping the ministers behind the movement for integration, find themselves at a loss for hard evidence that their targets are “Commies.”

“Just let ‘em eat at the g*d-d**m lunch counter already,” says the fed-up northern one to his southern colleague. “What is the big f***in’ deal?”  Amen, brother.

“The Good Negro”
By Tracey Scott Wilson
Thru April 19
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette St., 212-967-7555
$20-70; http://www.publictheater.org

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